GPA, Continued: Everyone’s Favorite Sore Spot

by Judge Josh on March 26, 2010

Nothing quite gets the dander up around these parts like my post about how one’s high school GPA doesn’t matter as much as it used to in terms of getting scholarships. I get more hate mail about that post than my religion post and my hardships post combined. I’m only the messenger, and believe me, I am one messenger who’s shot full of holes.

ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL GIRL. ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL GIRL. ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL GIRL.

A lot of the slings and arrows that come my way are from students who, very understandably, are angry that they’ve been sold a bill of goods by someone (teachers, parents, counselors, whoever) who told them that good grades were all you needed to win the big money. If I’d given up my entire social and extracurricular life to score high grades and found myself losing money to kids with above-average grades and more well-rounded resumes, I’d be pissed, too.

But some of the anger comes from misinterpreting what I’ve said about GPA, despite the fact that I did lay it out pretty clearly. Let me address some of the misconceptions about my take on GPA, using either direct or paraphrased quotes from some of the angries among you:

You: How can you say a GPA doesn’t matter? It shows I study hard and master the material?
Me: I didn’t say that a GPA doesn’t matter; it does matter. It’s just not the be-all, end-all statistic on an application that it once was. Look, I don’t mean to rub it in here, but there once was a day where straight A’s guaranteed you free college at just about anyplace you wanted to go, but that’s simply not the case anymore.

Colleges will talk until they’re blue in the face about how they seek students who are excellent academically, but many will also come right out and tell you that their highest priority is a diverse student body. And since high GPA’s aren’t particularly diverse anymore (they’re pretty common, actually), they alone won’t earn you scholarship money. By and large, colleges are no longer actively seeking hyper-intelligent yet unsocialized study-bots; they’re looking for people who are remarkable in and out of the classroom.


And I’m not making any commentary (yet) on whether this change is good or bad. I’m just saying it’s true.

Regarding my original comments on GPA, Lori says:

This article is completely not true when you’re applying for college and the admissions officer responsible for your area knows the rigor of the high school.

Lori’s confused about the topic at hand. She refers to admissions, when I’m talking about scholarships. She’s right regarding admissions officers, of course; I can’t sit here and tell you that admissions officers no longer care about your grades (although they care less than they used to — see comments above about seeking a “diverse student body”). Of course they do. But again, this site is about receiving scholarship money, not simply gaining admission to college.

Also, for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t put giant sums of money on any college’s admissions officers being well-versed on every single high school’s level of academic rigor. Lori has much more faith in her fellow man than I do. :)

Jennalee writes:

Hey, just because someone’s GPA may be low now doesn’t mean the person can’t improve himself/herself academically in the future. People should be graded based on effort too. When teachers give good grades just to make the students look better, it does some damage to the student’s self-esteem. Also, it doesn’t really tell the student what he is doing right or wrong. I would like to know what I’m doing right or wrong in a class, rather than just be given a good grade.

I love Jennalee already. What Jennalee describes is the rampant problem of grade inflation, which has done more to kill the importance of GPA than anything else. Very simply put: there are thousands and thousands of teachers who, rather than flunk a student who doesn’t know her material, will simply pass the student because they don’t want to deal with her anymore. Or her parents, or an angry coach who wants her to be eligible to play sports, or whatever.

This is a fact. Every teacher who’s not brand new knows it’s a fact. Some will admit it privately, but very few publicly. It’s still a fact.

This won’t be the last word on GPA on this site, for sure. A lot of 4.0-types will continue to vehemently argue the point with me, and that’s OK (even though I’m not against them, or high GPAs!). But unfortunately for all involved, a high GPA just isn’t enough to pull a scholarship anymore, and it’s never going to be that way again.

OK, leave your comments below — I’m outta here. I’m gonna whack down a few sore-throat lozenges before I take my kids out to dinner while Mom goes off to watch “Hairspray!” at the Civic Center. Not because sore-throat lozenges enhance the dining experience; just because I have a sore throat. Damn these spring colds. Have a great weekend!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Letava` July 22, 2010 at 3:52 pm

This artical actually makes me feel like i still have a chance at college….considering my GPA is not looking so good. But I see where your coming from in terms of colleges looking for more than just grades. There are lots of scholarships nowadays for just about anything, theres one down here where I live that is just for polynesian kids…lucky me…too bad I need a 3.0..thats the only sucky part. Also I agree, there are lots of teachers who pass students because they dont want to deal with them, so we cant trust GPAs too much anyway, there are tons of smart students as well whos GPAs just dont reflect that, Im not putting down people who do get high GPAs and study hard…I mean Props to you…im just saying you need other things going for you aswell…I very much enjoyed reading your artical! (:

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Juli December 4, 2010 at 11:51 am

Weighted grades may seem more realistic.

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Keira January 27, 2011 at 1:01 pm

I really love your posts. They are extremely helpful.

I go to a proficiency-based grading school that unfortunately, hands out A’s like they’re free cake. I only transferred over here last year (my junior year) and so my GPA is a lot lower than everyone else here. I just raised it to a 3.0 after my first trimester of senior year.

GPA might not be the end-all be-all decision for scholarships, and you can definitely find scholarships out there that focus on a skill rather than your grades, but it does play a role. Not to mention that there are A LOT of scholarships out there that do only consider your GPA. A large portion of my classmates have a GPA of 4.28 and are receiving serious money from schools. $15,000 or more to pay for their schooling, based only on their GPA. I am not so lucky with my 3.0.

I’m not saying that you should forget your grades, just take the classes you want and try to get as high of a GPA as you can, because it will help you in the long run. Higher GPAs might get more money, but it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for people with low GPAs to pay for school.

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